First United Methodist Church
October 2, 2022
Rev. Lauren Hall
God Speaks Today
The Bible is written in such a way that it is not simply a narrative of past events. It contains stories about God’s people and it reveals God’s presence among us. It is past, present and future, and it becomes personal when you see your life as a continuation of these stories. As we encounter the passages in the Bible, we hear God’s voice speaking to us through them. God is the main character, but we also have a role to play.
Do you remember the story of Ted Williams, the homeless man who had an amazing speaking voice? He could impersonate a variety of famous voices and would entertain people at busy intersections for handouts. Someone who heard him decided that he wanted to help this man turn his life around. Although his story has some ups and downs, he is now doing fine – he has a home, he has a job, he is rehabilitated, he has reconciled with his family and he has reconciled with God. In an interview with the Today Show, Ted spoke of the year his life changed. He was homeless because of a series of bad choices he had made, resulting in unemployment, alcohol and drug addiction and alienation of his family. Although his life isn’t perfect, he says, “I thought that year would be another year wasted; instead it became the year I found God in my life.”
As we finish out this year, we are going to embark on a series of sermons that help us to explore that question for ourselves: will this be another year wasted? Or could this be a time when I find God in my life?
Over the next few weeks we will be listening to the voice of someone who is definitely different. We will be listening to Jesus, who – not unlike Ted Williams – was a homeless man in a busy time whose voice held within it something beautiful.
Jesus was and is different. The things he said shocked his listeners. The way he lived surprised people. The people he associated with offended the religious leaders of the day. What we have to remember about Jesus is that he generally challenged people by being unpredictable. He never did what people expected him to do. While he wasn’t necessarily trying to create controversy with his teachings, he was trying to correct misunderstandings of Judaism that had occurred over time. So when we look at his teachings in the background of Jesus’ time, what we often see is a world that is being seriously challenged.
People were expecting the Messiah, the one who would save them, to be a mighty King. Jesus came as a baby in a feed trough. They expected a conquering military leader; Jesus came proclaiming love for the enemy. They expected the Messiah to overthrow the government and reveal the wrongs within it. Instead Jesus turned the prevailing religion upside down and revealed the wrongs within it. They expected a deity from on high to come and proclaim salvation from the skies. Jesus came as a homeless man walking their dirty streets. He wasn’t the messiah that everyone was looking for back then. And when you really start to look at much of his teaching, I think he isn’t always the messiah that people are looking for today.
Often times we wish to make Jesus tame or comfortable for us. We wish to fit Jesus into our culture or our norms. We want to let him have a part of our life or a portion of our heart. But Jesus is different. He doesn’t work that way. Jesus requires full devotion. He calls us to a completely different way of life. It is the life we have truly been looking for, but it is often the opposite of what fits into the world around us.
When we look at today’s passage, we have to look at it in the context of Jesus’ time, but we then have to bring that context into our own time. That’s how God speaks to us – we can leave it in the past, or we can allow Christ to speak to us through the text in both times. There is a story in both contexts, but we need to consider who is telling the story.
In today’s passage, I have to admit that I feel somewhat sorry for the disciples. Jesus has been asking some fairly extraordinary things of them – to give away their possessions, to forgive those who wrong you…countless times, to take up their cross, and more. It’s no wonder that they ask for more faith. They feel inadequate to the tasks being asked of them, insufficient to the challenges, and unable to imagine accomplishing any of what he is asking.
And if you consider the last two years we just had – between the pandemic, the war between Russia and the Ukraine, the unstable political and economic environment, racial unrest, and more – I suspect that many of us feel the same way. We feel as though we need more faith…just to get through, let alone to make a difference.
But then something interesting happens. When the disciples recognize their need and ask him for help, for more faith, you’d think Jesus would both welcome and grant their request. But he doesn’t. Instead, he almost seems to rebuke them. “If you had even a speck of faith…,” he begins, implying that they actually don’t have faith even the size of a mustard seed.
What we need to hear in Jesus’ words is not so much the rebuke, but instead a reorientation. Maybe Jesus’ sharp retort was just what they needed – maybe it is just what we need – to orient the disciples to the miraculous presence of God all around them and the totally-sufficient faith they/we already have.
Here’s the thing from the past that we have to realize: servants aren’t invited to the table with the landowner; they eat when their work is done. Nor do they deserve great thanks simply for doing their job; they just do it. That’s what faith is like, Jesus says – simply the willingness to do what needs to be done. Faith is not, in other words, some kind of scarce resource that needs to be saved, spent, added to, and all the rest. It isn’t even always heroic. In fact, it usually isn’t, but instead is simply and humbly doing what needs to be done, big or small, great or mundane, just because it needs doing.
This isn’t the first time Jesus has hinted at this. At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has already named as faithful a woman’s desperate confidence that if she only touches him she will be healed (3:48), a centurion’s concern for a sick servant (7:9), and a woman’s gratitude at being forgiven (7:50). Soon he will also call faithful a Samaritan leper who returns to thank him for healing (17:19) and the plea of a blind beggar for sight (18:42). And so it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus challenges the disciples’ perception about faith by pointing them to the ordinary hard work and service of a servant performing his or her duties.
Think about this for a minute: Faith is found not in the mighty acts of heaven but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.
How many of you know and believe this? That Jesus would call so many of the unnoticed things we do each week faithful? [Things like] Showing up for work and doing a good job. Listening when someone needs to talk. Getting the kids off to school. Sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend. Volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Voting even if the field of candidates seems discouraging. Balancing the books for your business or community group. Writing a thank you note to someone who has done a kindness. Cooking supper. Praying for a neighbor who is having a hard time. The list could go on. And that’s the point. None of these things is any big deal, and yet it is just these kinds of acts that occupy so much of our lives. Most of us don’t think of these as acts of faith.
Somehow, an “act of faith” seems like it needs to be significant or costly or even extravagant to merit God’s attention. And that misperception isn’t really new. Martin Luther, writing 500 years ago, once celebrated the virtue of a father changing diapers (emphasizing father because that was so extremely rare, and probably considered unbecoming, at the time): “When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool…God with all his angels and creatures is smiling” (LW:45:50).
I realize that we may not all agree about the difference these “small” things make in light of the major challenges and problems we face every day. So let’s try this:
Take a moment and write down one helpful thing you did this past week. Then imagine what the world would have been like last week if none of the things named on these cards had been done.
Look, when we read the headlines and see news of more shootings, more injustice, more war, it can seem like there is no hope. Yet all around us signs of hope abound – of God continuing to love and care for this world –even and especially through the simple, ordinary, even mundane acts of faithfulness we are already doing.
Jesus recognizes ordinary things as acts of faith and considers them honorable, God-blessed, and important. When he stood on the plain and was offered five loaves and two fish, he multiplied them and fed thousands of people. Imagine what God might do with what you have to offer.
Let us pray…
O God, we are so grateful for your abiding love. We pray that we may embody a spirit of love and self-discipline, grounded in the power of your grace. We are taught in so many ways – some subtle ways, some blatant ways – to fulfill all of our wants by consuming things. Remind us during this moment that we are called to invest in you. We join Christians around the world today who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior. May we draw strength from this unity and from this act of sacrificial giving. In the name of one God, who offers grace, mercy, and peace, we pray. Amen.